Years ago, the first monastery I encountered was packed with Monks. They were mostly old men, in beautiful robes with big beards and contemplative vibes. They were Franciscans and they lived in silence on the top of a majestic hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
I’d made arrangements to stay a week and found myself wondering how these men were benefiting the world by just sitting around so much. I stayed and came to understand in a deep and personal way how much they had helped me simply by holding open this space for me to go within. They were serving humanity and adding more love by modeling a form of contemplative living and making it available to anyone searching for more.
What I got from that small experience rippled out into the world and continues to this day…
Since then I’ve had the great fortune of being in many more places dedicated to contemplation and now am surrounded by people who are not silent but active participants in making our world better and have built a full and beautiful life living in the world, serving the people and changing things thru active engagement and teaching.
I’ve come to know that how people live sacred and meaningful lives, how they define contemplative living is very personal and shows up in a million ways.
As we explore these ancient Sri Lankan Temples and little villages and have the significant privilege of seeing 3rd world humanity up close and intimate, being invited into homes to eat with families that for generations have lived a devoted and spiritual life… I get to see contemplative living up close. They don’t talk about it, I’m not even sure they have an awareness of it— it’s simply who they are, how they live.. deep love and reverence to their family, firm commitments to their faith and practice and a basic simple kindness that permeates everything.
I look up the word contemplative in the dictionary and it says: A person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, especially in a monastery or convent.
The definition feels so limiting because I’m very sure what I’m seeing here is the result of the spiritual, contemplative life.
I’d broaden it to describe those of us who primarily are dedicated to kindness and living in service to humanity.. to those who constantly seek wisdom and deepen their commitment to a path that keeps them centered and full of grace… people who live as gently as possible and commit to adding more love to the world by any means possible.
The constant inquiry of wisdom and then the practical application of it on a daily basis in our lives…. that’s what contemplative living means to me.
Dhammapada Verse 372
Natthi jhaanam apan~n~assa, pan~n~aa natthi ajhaayato,
Yamhi jhaanan~ ca pan~n~an~ ca sa ve nibbaanasantike.
There is no absorption without wisdom, No wisdom without absorption.
One who has both wisdom and absorption is close to emancipation (nibbana / nirvana)
The Buddha taught about the benefits of contemplative living and in every religion I can find the benefits are the same— the words change but the outcome alters people in the same way. The theme I found in all religions:
Grace. Ease. Peace. Fluidity. Sincerity. Nobility.
A king once asked The Buddha “what are the benefits of contemplative living?” and his answer, simplified was similar.
Virtue. Sense Restraint. Mindfulness and Alertness. Contentedness. Insight knowledge.
….and the highest reward of the contemplative life: Release from saṃsāra….